When longtime freinds and creative collaborators Bryan Turcotte and Kenny Ochoa decided to film a documentary series, they weren’t particulary worried about the “what,” “when,” or “where.” They felt like being overly-detailed in their set up would take away from their bigger mission: to focus completely on the “who.” In this case, that meant bold artists, risk-taking muscians, and a coffee maverick.
The first season of Freethinkers — which airs on Uproxx — reveals the duo’s obession with people who live distinct, passion-filled lives, without obessing over traditional metrics of success. The series focuses on the work of each subject and helps to explain the rationale behind their creative output… even when that rationale perhaps seems counterintuitive in a world laser focused on getting famous or rich.
As we approach tomorrow’s launch of the final episode of Freethinkers, we spoke to Kenny and Bryan about the project. The result was a conversation that’s sure to inspire any would-be creative maverick or iconoclast.
I guess my first question is the vaguest, which is: What did you set out to do with this project? What was the goal?
Bryan: I think that our goal was that we wanted to create something that felt authentic and not just hype, you know? We’re always sort of striving, and probably a lot of the reason why Kenny and I even have become friends is that we have that same philosophy of living one’s truth and sort of doing things that compel you and for the right reasons and not necessarily just for fame and fortune or notoriety or whatever.
That’s sort of how it came together. The idea of that and specific characters in our world. When we go to New York, the first place we go to is Abraço Coffee — which is featured in episode one. We love Jamie, he’s that really special kind of person that we dubbed a “free thinker” because he would be doing what he’s doing with success or without it; with notoriety or no notoriety.
Those are the free thinkers — they’re compelled to live how they want and so we felt compelled to show little featurettes on these people and kind of be a fly on the wall and we do multiple shoots with them so that they kind of lose the idea that there’s a camera and a microphone at all.
The mini-docs feel less like information-filled pieces and more like these fun stories peppered with inspiration.
Bryan: What we’re trying to do is to inspire — much more than just to tell the story of what these people have done. It’s about trying to glean a philosophy or an inside vision of people that we think are special. It’s purposefully not told in a “tell us your name and what do you do and what do you create?” sort of way.
We know that there’s a little vagueness with some of these stories in terms of “where is this?” and “what kind of coffee do they sell?” or “what kind of art do they make?” but that’s intentional.
Kenny: I think inspiration is obviously the key word that keeps coming up. Both Bryan and I have had full careers in and out of music and advertising and I think what you find out is that people inspire you and experience you. Free Thinkers is an experience, full of people who inspire us. There’s no commercial aspect to it… we didn’t sit down and go “Hey we gotta make these documentaries to sell.” We just want to make great art about people that are inspired to create an experience for others.
Bryan: Yeah, the goal is to try and create a whole community of people who literally inspire another generation to say “I don’t need permission to be this person, I can just do what I want.” Kenny and I both come from punk rock roots as well. I mean it’s the same idea of, “Just do it yourself, don’t ask permission. Just start doing something. Live your truth. Don’t worry about what people are gonna think.”
Kenny: And it’s interesting to see people who approach their craft and their lives differently. They don’t care about what the norm is and how you’re supposed to do things. They just do it they only way they can.
It seems like what interests you two — more than the careers of these people — are their personalities.
Bryan: The list of people who are in the production queue right now are cooks, bakers, surfboard shapers… all types of people. It’s not intentionally just supposed to be artists or musicians.
Kenny: We both come from a pretty deep music background, which we’ve done other types of productions that focus on music, but this, in particular, has music in it but it’s not about music. It’s about culture and people and specifically for that reason. That you can be inspired by any type of medium.
Not everyone you guys profile is super young. Not everyone is in this kind of millennial or Generation Y age and yet it feels like the mentality you’re focused on is particularly relevant right now.
Do you feel like the tools that people have these days have made it easier for them to break out of the system and be iconoclasts in their pursuits? Or has that always been there for people who wanted it?
Bryan: I think the times today are definitely much more open to free thinkers, but I think it’s been around a long time. I grew up in East San Jose, seeing the biker culture of San Francisco and we’ve seen this throughout our history but it was viewed of more as “you’re a radical” in the past.
I think nowadays it’s easier to sort of be a radical and to exist and to continue doing that. I don’t necessarily believe that all of these people should become hugely successful. I think some of them are just meant to be in a little shop on a corner and doing their thing. It’s not necessarily about raising their profile. It’s more about the philosophy and the lifestyle and making choices.
Kenny: It’s all relative, right? So what’s considered successful and I always think about it … I do agree I think it’s easier just based on media ability to highlight your lifestyle on the internet but I remember being a kid and there was always that freak in school, whatever that guy that didn’t give a shit about anything. And I always admired that. You know he didn’t care what anybody thought and so I think those people regardless of what they did stood out. And I think a lot of those are the free thinkers — they approach their lives differently.
I think nowadays there are so many ways to get out there whether it’s social media, however, to be able to highlight your uniqueness in a sense.
Bryan: Yeah there’s so much freedom to be able to express yourself or to find your niche. You don’t have to travel to all corners of the world to find things much anymore. But I still think about that special type of person that Kenny and I always joke around with it’s either there’s a perception that this guy’s lost his mind or this girl’s crazy or they really have all the answers. It’s like where is that tipping point of just choosing to live outside the expected norm.
We feature people that we truly are being inspired by. We’re sitting there holding the camera just going this is amazing. We leave every time we shoot and go “That was as inspiring as if I was in a Tony Robbins seminar.”
Kenny: It’s nice to admire someone who can only do what they do a certain way. There’s no other way they can do it and it doesn’t matter and so to have that freedom, and half of them don’t even know it, it’s just in their DNA, right?
We kinda know when we see it. You know that person and you’re just like “That person would never do this any other way.”
When you interview these bold, creative personalities are you seeing trends? Is there a certain type of fearlessness? Bryan, you mentioned people who have, “a reckless lack of caring for what other people thought.” What are you seeing in people over and over and over?
Kenny: It’s not a confidence. They definitely don’t come across as arrogant or “I have the keys to the kingdom,” but there’s definitely a sort of “I know I’m a freak. I know I do these things they way I do them. I just don’t care.” They have this compulsion. It’s like why do certain people help other people and other people don’t?
And I think that these people just have no choice in the matter. I don’t feel like they think they have a choice in the matter and I don’t think it’s motivated by anything other than just pure love and inspiration and so what I don’t see in any of these people is fear or insecurity in the way that they care about validation. It’s a lack of fear.
Brian: Yeah, and they just don’t need to be validated by anybody to feel this is what I need to do and this is important, and this is what I’m here to do and they don’t know exactly where they’re going but it’s just the day to day is their path. I don’t think any of them see it to be some means to and end.
It’s just this sort of unwavering voice in their head that’s pushing them to move forward which is really inspiring to me just ’cause I know I have a strong conviction and both Kenny and I have a really strong work ethic, but there’s always like “ah, what’s going on?” And “Am I making the right decision? What are we doing?”
Kenny: These guys inspire me to just trust your gut. That’s really important and to go for it and to not worry about obstacles or any of that kind of stuff.
Did you see people who felt a certainty of what they were doing was cool and were kinda able to get other people to get on board? Like “I promise you all this is the thing, this is the hit?”
Kenny: Yeah, unwavering. No hesitation.
Brian: But the interesting thing about the free thinkers is that I really don’t think that any of them thinks that what they’re doing is cool to anyone but themselves, which is interesting. And although I admire somebody who can take their form of art to a higher level, I just don’t think any of the free thinkers would really think like that. I think they think more about doing it for their friends and doing it for themselves and doing it for their neighborhood or the people on their block. I just don’t think there’s any thought of domination or success.
Kenny: We keep searching for these guys who are surfing the perfect wave down in the middle of nowhere and nobody’s taking pictures of them because they aren’t not surfing to get in a magazine, they’re doing it for themselves and that’s a really interesting concept. There’s nothing else other than the private challenging.